Q and A with Kathy Freston

Photo credit: Charles Bush

If you didn’t catch yesterday’s post, I gave you a brief 411 on Kathy Freston, the best-selling author who led Oprah and 378 of her staff members on a week long vegan challenge. Freston recently released her latest book, the Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World, which details the physical and environmental benefits of taking on a vegan lifestyle. If you missed it, check out yesterday’s post to learn more about the vegan author/mentor before going on to read the following Q and A.

What was the most challenging part of going vegan for you? How to you advise others to overcome this obstacle?

The most challenging part of going vegan was the fear that I would lose out on all the traditions that I grew up loving – turkey at Thanksgiving with family, weekend barbeques with friends, pizza in a pinch.  But what I found was that I didn’t have to give up anything at all.  I simply chose vegan versions of the things I loved, like Gardein turkey or chik’n instead of real turkey, veggie burgers and dogs instead of meat based ones, and pizza made with nondairy cheese and veggie sausage rather than the unhealthier stuff I’d grown accustomed to.  When done this way, switching to vegan was a breeze.  My advice is to lean into a veganist lifestyle: Give up eating one animal at a time, and replace those meals with plant-based ones.  Give yourself the time and space to find your way without all the pressure of leaping into a drastic change and risking failure.

Hardest meat or dairy product for you to give up?

I loved anything with chicken. It was my go-to protein. When I learned that 9 out of the 10 billion animals killed a year for food are birds, I was pretty upset. But I discovered Gardein which is a high protein meat alternative made from vegetarian proteins like amaranth, quinoa, soy, and wheat. Anything I made with chicken I can make with Gardein, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

In a recent article on Oprah’s website regarding “5 things you know for sure,” you state: “I’ll be forever grateful that alcohol is vegan. An occasional martini is good for the soul.” However, not alcohol is actually vegan. Wine and beer often involve the use of animal-derived ingredients during standard processing procedures. What are your thoughts on this?

I have a 2% rule, and that means that if something has a tiny bit of something derived from an animal, I’m not going to drive myself or a waiter crazy about it.  It doesn’t do the animals any good if I, or any vegan, come off as annoying and difficult to please, so I do my best.  That means if I’m at a restaurant, I don’t grill the waiter about whether or not there might be egg in the bread. I try and present vegan as accessible and likeable.  And I’m a big believer in progress, not perfection!

Have you sworn off all leather products? If so, at what stage in your vegan progression did that come about? If not, could you share your thoughts on wearing animal products like leather and wool?

I don’t wear or use any leather, but that came long after I stopped eating animals. I think as we become more conscious and thoughtful about what happens to animals as they become our food or accessories, we naturally and easily make the decision to not purchase those products because it just doesn’t sit right in the soul.  As for wool, I don’t buy any from Australia, as they practice meulsing there, a painful process of cutting the sheep’s flesh to save money.  Eventually, I would like to give up wearing wool too, but as with all things, it’s a process in getting there.  My goal is to keep moving forward. As a note here, I really just encourage people to look at their food choices. No need to overwhelm yourself with too much at once.

What was the best part about working with Oprah?

Oprah is a real teacher. She truly wants to help people  live their best lives.  I love that I was a part of that in the area of eating consciously. It was a true honor to be able to engage in the conversation of thinking about where our food comes from.  I think the show was pretty historic!

You inspire many people to work towards becoming vegan and also help many find their own way to lead an overall healthy lifestyle. Who or what inspires you and keeps you balanced in your everyday life?

I’m inspired by the nutritional scientists and doctors who come out with the astounding research about how vegan food is so good for our health.  These dedicated people, along with the environmental scientists, animal protection organizations and spiritual leaders who point to the benefits of not eating animals, keep me excited that good things can and do happen when dietary changes are made.

I heard you make some mean “veal” picatta, replacing the veal with seitan…what’s your favorite meat substitute to use?

I love Gardein because it looks and tastes so much like the chicken and beef it replaces.  I also love Field Roast sausages. I slice them and put them in pasta or sautee them in a mix of onions and peppers like the Italians do so deliciously.

Favorite vegan cheese? Daiya because it melts beautifully.  I make cheese toast with it, or pizza, or melt it on burritos.

Soy milk or almond milk? Silk soy creamer for my coffee or tea. It’s so smooth and thick and it mixes just like cream.

Steel cut vs. old fashioned oats? Any other favorite breakfast cereals? Love steel cut oats soaked overnight with apple juice to make the oatmeal sweet!  My favorite breakfast is a bowl of brown rice (I make a pot of it twice a week and keep it in the fridge) with chopped dates and almonds in it, and hot soy/rice/almond/hemp milk poured over.  I rotate the milks all the time.

Favorite vegan restaurant? What’s your favorite vegan dish you’ve ever eaten? I love Candle 79 in New York. They make the best Seitan Picatta over mashed potatoes… delicious.

What was on your plate last night? I kept it simple last night: lentil soup, big salad, cheesy toast.

Favorite indulgence? It’s Decadent soy ice cream in Cherry Nirvana. It’s to die for.

I’ve read you aspire to have your own veganism-based TV show on the O network. Is this nearing reality? What would be the premise of the show? Boy would I love to talk vegan on a tv show all the time!  It’s not in the works right now, but you never know. There’s a lot of buzz on the “V-word” right now, and the phone has been ringing!

Care to share a quick recipe with readers? The Gardein Fried Chicken by Art Smith would bowl over any hardcore carnivore.

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  • Reply
    Simply Life
    February 24, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Great interview- thanks!

  • Reply
    Q and A with Kathy Freston | CookingPlanet
    February 24, 2011 at 7:26 am

    […] Q and A with Kathy Freston […]

  • Reply
    February 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I really enjoyed reading the interview!

    I like her approach and the advice to make changes slowly.

  • Reply
    Angela (the diet book junkie)
    February 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    great interview Grace, i’m still jealous you got to talk to her. 🙂 i thought it was interesting that she has a 2% rule. i mean, i think it’s totally fine and i don’t believe any diet needs to be ‘perfect’, i just wonder: can you still classify yourself as “vegan” if you make exceptions?

  • Reply
    October 27, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Are you still vegan if the waiter tells you there is no egg in the bread and there really is?

    Unless you personally prepare all of your food yourself, AND scrub each veggie to ensure that all traces of an animal that may have walked past it is gone…Just saying. You could drive yourself absolutely nuts and cause more damage from the stress than from eating 1/100 of an egg.

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